Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Cut and Paste Existence- The Conclusion

( Important author's notes: In this segment I express my opinion about religion and the possible absence of God. These are my views and I mean absolutely no insult to anyone of faith. As always excuse the typos and I would really appreciate comments!)

While the possibility remained that I was just mentally disturbed after reading that old and tattered world history book, I became convinced that I was a lone witness to human history being altered. The crazy thing though, the temporal alterations seemed to be a piecemeal affair with the end result pretty much what I remembered. Almost as if some near omnipotent entity would cut some event or person from reality on a whim, then paste over it with another just to see what, if anything, changes. Being a computer programmer it reminded me of the lazy but universally accepted habit of changing small sections of code to adapt an existing program for another use or client.

That being said, I had to view my awareness of the changes as some sort of glitch or bug in the overall program. I found some dark, ironic humor in the fact that I had become the very thing people in my profession hate most of all, an irritating mistake in computer coding that in many ways was akin to poetry.

Of course, the question as to who or what was altering history couldn't be avoided. I had never been a religious person, mainly because from my observations the basic tenets of all faiths that compassion and forgiveness should oversee human affairs were next to impossible for the adherents to follow. While there were plenty of individual exceptions, the vast majority of those calling themselves “the faithful” seemed to follow the idea that they could be as cruel and destructive as they wanted and all it took to wash away their transgression was some quickly whispered prayer to an unseen God to make everything right again. Countless tyrants and other assorted human monsters went to their graves believing they had been cleared of all the blood they had spilled during their lives because of a prayer.

Another equally troublesome behavior I noticed about overly religious types was that God had a strange habit of agreeing with their ideas on how people should live their lives and ultimately, who was worthy to walk through the Pearly Gates into paradise. Throughout my life I had personally known individuals from all faiths that were good, honest people, who while not saints, went above and beyond in an attempt to make the world a better place. To think God would condemn a person to hell because they failed to adhere to one approved organized religion and its arcane rituals seemed ridiculous.

This always lead me to the conclusion that if God did care about the human race, as all the organized faiths assured their flocks, he, or she, seemed to be limiting their interaction with humans to appearances on grilled cheese sandwiches and toasted corn chips. All the while millions of truly innocent people around the world suffered from diseases, famine, war, and the often calamitous whims of nature. If it was some Supreme Being playing with human history I saw no pattern or purpose to the way he was altering events because the general result was always the same.

The first major difference I noticed from reading the history book was learning that in this current reality President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Ford's Theater by some radical Southern actor a short time after the end of the Civil War. I remember being taught in elementary school that while his place of death was the same, he instead died of a sudden heart attack. Other differences included a short-lived German landing on Britain during the Second World War. The last two good emperors of the ancient Roman Empire being erased from history. The murder of the Russian royal family instead of them being exiled to France. And the resignation of Richard Nixon instead of him being kicked out of office then sent to prison for his crimes.

Despite those changes in the history everything pretty much ended up the same way, Lincoln still died in office, Churchill still lead the Brits to victory, the western Roman Empire collapsed about the same time, the reign of the Russian czars was over, and President Ford still pardoned Nixon. Absolutely nothing to suggest that whatever entity was controlling the fate of the human race was doing anything to curb our overall barbaric behavior.

Then again, this assumed that there was some intelligent guiding force controlling everything. I couldn't shake the idea that maybe there was some inherent flaw in the makeup of the universe that periodically caused it to hiccup and change some random aspect of reality. Another possibility that gave me cold chills was something I remember reading about in one of my programming journals dealing with trendy video games, that maybe the universe I inhabit is literally a computer simulation. Did my knowledge of how events and people have changed make me a puppet on a string being controlled by an extra-dimensional being playing its version of X-Box, or was I the inadvertent bug in the system I first surmised. If I wasn't already suffering from some massive delusion like my family and doctors thought, pondering all the mind blowing implications of what I was experiencing could in fact drive me insane.

There was one aspect of all these alterations to history I did my best to ignore. It was my own past, since being committed, I had refrained from asking my family any questions as to the reasons Beth Hampton and I broke off our engagement. I didn't even ask anything about the nature of the attacks that took place on September 11th, 2001 since I had heard enough already to surmise they were significantly different than what I remember.

In the history I remembered of that day, Al-Qaeda terrorists hacked into the avionics of a dozen jetliners in mid-flight causing them all to crash above major American cities. My Beth and my young son, Luke, were on a flight leaving out of Boston that morning on the way to San Francisco. Their plane lost power above Manhattan and crashed close to the Twin Towers. All told, over six-thousand people were killed that day along the east coast. Adding another heaping insult to my mental injuries, in this new reality the bankers and investment brokers that brought about the crash of 2008 and ruined the software company I and others were working so hard to build in the process were never prosecuted. Originally, the public outrage was so bad several of the bankers began demanding protection after irate mobs surrounded some of their properties and burned them down.

All this was water under the temporally dislocated bridge. While the mental facility where I was being treated was a comfortable place, it was still a prison and I wanted nothing more than to be set free. That meant a combination of things but namely trying to convince my doctors that I now realized I was suffering from a delusion and that I wanted to get better. That precluded me asking the one question I now wanted answered above everything else, why and how did my relationship with Beth Hampton end.

So I buried all my feelings and questions and worked hard at being normal. Surprisingly it's much harder than it seems once you have been classified as “disturbed.”

It took eighteen long months but eventually both my doctors and family thought I was well enough to return home to Watertown. Unfortunately, the people in my hometown didn't really welcome me back. Word had gotten out about my troubles and while I was only slightly avoided upon my original return, this time there were several instances when I was downtown that people actually crossed the street to steer clear of me. It didn't take long for me to realize that the best thing for both my family and me was to leave Watertown and restart my life somewhere else. At least the question as to where I should go wasn't a hard one.

While my wife and child had been altered or erased from history my friendships hadn't, when word got out that I wanted to actively participate in my career again several colleagues almost began fighting over me. I settled on a firm in Silicon Valley region of California. I had always loved San Francisco and it was the perfect place to rebuild my life. It was only as I packed up my few belongs scattered about the cottage that I summoned the courage to ask my sister a certain question.

“Melinda, I've been a good boy, obeyed the restraining order Beth and her husband demanded before I was released, and pretty much proved my sanity to everyone except to all the closed-minded individuals in our hometown. So, please tell me why Beth and I broke up in college, because I have no memory of it.” I said careful to phrase my statement in a way as to not cast doubts on my newly certified sanity.

Melinda just sat in one of the cottage's kitchen chairs and said nothing for several moments. “Beth and I are still friends and when you had your breakdown I went and asked her what happened between you two. The thing about it Peter there's no real story, supposedly Beth and you were going to slip away from campus one weekend to elope. There was some chapel up in the Smokey Mountains you guys found on the internet and were going to use it to get hitched. One the way up there you guys had some sort of fight, words were said, and you mutually decided to call it off. After that you two drifted away from each other and after graduation you moved up to Boston and she came home to Watertown until she married Jacob.”

“So we went out with a whimper instead of a bang.” I said again pondering the vagaries of whatever was changing history.


San Francisco was just the medicine I needed for my soul. My friends at the new company all greeted me like a long lost hero and bent over backwards to help me settle in to my new job and apartment. Months slipped by with me actually enjoying my life and even sometimes not thinking about that strange morning when I woke up and knew reality had been altered.

Isabel came into my life about a year after my move, a tender and beautiful lady I sometimes felt she was the universe's attempt to make up for what it had taken. We met at an outdoor concert in Golden Gate Park and quickly became fixtures in each others lives. Our weekends became a routine of brunch at the Baker Street Bistro and them hours prowling around dusty old book and antique stores. That was when the universe decided to surprise me again.

Isabel and I were browsing the bookshelves of a rundown hole in the wall off Mission Street when I spotted the book. At first it didn't resister because I simply didn't except to find it. But there it was on the shelf with his name in faded gold lettering along the spine. I didn't over react or even say anything but my hands were shaking as I reached up and pulled it off the shelf.

“What is it honey?” Isabel said as she put her arm around my shoulder and moved close. “You look like you've seen a ghost.”

The book was entitled The Dark of the Night and it was the novel that won Milton Solomon the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957.

“Oh it's nothing,” I said trying to sound casual. “Just an old book I thought didn't exist anymore.”

The person running the store that morning was a college kid who obviously didn't know anything about books but did tell me that the owner would be back Monday morning. I bought the book and that night read it in bed as Isabel lay next me. It was exactly as I remembered but I didn't obsess over why it existed. It was during my stay in the treatment center that I came to the realization that my memories were a physical construct of living brain cells and a soup of exotic chemicals. I had to figure that if I was indeed a glitch in some sort of program there had to be other glitches of either people or physical items that evaded the resulting change.

I called in sick to work Monday morning and was across the street when I spotted what had to be the owner approaching the old bookstore. Almost a character from central casting he was a dignified old man wearing an impeccability tailored suit whose only fault was that it twenty to thirty years out of fashion. He even sported a faded and worn fedora that hinted at an adventurous past back when the world was more open and raw.

I allowed the man to open his store before I charged in with the unexpected discovery I bought the previous weekend. My first close-up sight of him after closing the door suggested he was a man possessing a keen intellect and would not harbor any insane talk of the past being randomly altered much less the notion that I had found a novel in his store written by a man who didn't exist.

“Hello sir,” he said with a smile. “You're the earliest customer I've had in a long time.”

“Well actually I playing hokey this morning.” I said trying to act normal. “I just dropped by to ask you about the book I found here Saturday. It was incredible but I've never heard of the author, I can't believe someone of this talent wasn't better known.” I then handed him the book actually worried it might somehow suddenly vanish.

“Milton Solomon?” The old man said reading the name off the spine. “I must admit I've never heard of this author and I've owned this store since the late 1960's. We probably got this book from some estate sale with one of my employees putting on the shelf to sell. But believe it or not I do remember someone asking about this Solomon fellow in the mid-1980's, was strangely adamant about in fact, to the point I almost called the police worried he might be dangerous. Only left after I promised to give his phone number to anyone else who might show up asking about this Milton Solomon.”

I laugh nervously,” You wouldn't happen to still have that phone number would you? Might be nice to assure this person someone else loves this guy's work.”

The owner shrugs and bends down to pull out an ancient looking ledger from underneath the counter. “I don't like computers,” he says while flipping through the pages.

“Believe it or not,” I say, “I'm a programmer and I'm not crazy about them either.” The owner looks up and smiles then returns to the ledger.

“Here it is,” he says then grabs a small notepad and pen to write it down.

I thank the man and quickly leave. I hold off calling until I'm sitting inside my car. Emotions swirl inside me with great deal of satisfaction to the idea that it has been confirmed that I was never crazy. I dial the number and listen to the rings wondering what I'm going to say.

Just when I think no one will answer there is a click and I hear the word, “Hello?”


Pixel Peeper said..., no, no, this can't be the conclusion!

Naturally, I've never experienced anything like your main character, but you told this story so well I could totally put myself into his situation and mindset.

Not really related to your story, but somehow your story made me think of it - have you seen the new series "Wayward Pines" with Matt Dillon? It seems like the kind of show that might interest you. (I think it's on Fox)

Beach Bum said...

Pixel: Leaving this story up in the air. The one issue I had Saturday and Sunday as I struggled to get it finished was how would it end. I had two ideas but didn't know which was best. Instead I used both can came up with the mysterious phone number as an afterthought.

There was a third ending that cut away from the universe "Peter" found himself to the one where his wife and child still existed. It had his wife "Beth" talking to the police about his sudden and mysterious disappearance. Suggesting that Peter accidently slipped into another universe quite similar to his own. I decided just to stay with the time alterations angle.

As for the television series Wayward Pines, I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Although I missed some parts. I'm hoping Netflix or Amazon Prime picks it up so I can see everything again. I actually bought the book for my Kindle but haven't really read much of it.

The Bug said...

Well I have filled in my own ending - it's his father on the other end of the line. Ha!

Beach Bum said...

The Bug: You know, I could have done something with that idea, maybe an alternate universe copy of his dad. I actually meant to write Peter's dad into the story but time and the fact my brain is like Swiss Cheese lately worked against it.

sage said...

This reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's writing...